Future Mars exploration has got a date, finally. NASA’s new InSight mission — set to study the deep interior of Red Planet — is targeting a new launch window that begins on May 5, 2018, with a Mars landing scheduled for November 26 in the same year.
The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission will help scientists understand how rocky planets — including Earth — formed and evolved.
The spacecraft had been on track to launch this month until a vacuum leak in its prime science instrument prompted NASA in December to suspend preparations for launch.
“The science goals of InSight are compelling and the NASA and France’s space agency Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) plans to overcome the technical challenges are sound,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC.
“The quest to understand the interior of Mars has been a longstanding goal of planetary scientists for decades. We’re excited to be back on the path for a launch, now in 2018,” he added in a statement.
Engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California will redesign, build and conduct qualifications of the new vacuum enclosure for the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) — the component that failed in December.
CNES will lead instrument level integration and test activities, allowing the InSight Project to take advantage of each organisation’s proven strengths.
The seismometer instrument’s main sensors need to operate within a vacuum chamber to provide the exquisite sensitivity needed for measuring ground movements as small as half the radius of a hydrogen atom.
The rework of the seismometer’s vacuum container will result in a thoroughly tested instrument in 2017 that will maintain a high degree of vacuum around the sensors through rigors of launch, landing, deployment and a two-year prime mission on the surface of Mars.
“The shared and renewed commitment to this mission continues our collaboration to find clues in the heart of Mars about the early evolution of our solar system,” said Marc Pircher, director of CNES’s Toulouse Space Centre.
NASA is on an ambitious journey to Mars that includes sending humans to the Red Planet, and that work remains on track.
Robotic spacecraft are leading the way for NASA’s Mars Exploration Programme, with the upcoming Mars 2020 rover being designed and built and the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers exploring the Martian surface.
The Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft are currently orbiting the planet, along with the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) orbiter, which is helping scientists understand what happened to the Martian atmosphere.